RRI action on science education at University of Bremen

Editorial Team RRI

Structural change towards responsible research and innovation looks different depending on institutions’ political, social and cultural context. This blog post tells the STARBIOS2 RRI story of our colleagues at University of Bremen. Want to learn more about what the STARBIOS2 project has been doing in the past 4 years and what we learned from implementing RRI in 6 European bioscience research institutions. Come to our virtual final event 29 May!


Our goal was to raise awareness and initiate structural change in regard to Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) at the Faculty of Biology and
Chemistry at the University of Bremen. The challenges we had to overcome:

  • The development of a common shared RRI vision in a
  • The activation of those affected (students, researchers, stakeholders) in a bottom-up – top-down process.
  • The identification of supportive and hindering structures and coping with obstacles


We chose Science Education as an important trigger to attain the RRI issues Public Engagement, Gender, Ethics, and Open Access. Based on an inclusive
communication model for biosciences we developed a series of reflective activities to encourage discussion and critically questions about what is responsible and conscientious practice within the scientific domain.
The reflective activities about societal engagement, contextualization of research, open access publication, gender in research, and ethics in science communication were evaluated with different target groups (students, doctoral students, researchers).

In addition, we developed a comprehensive educational model that formed the basis of RRI educational modules in cooperation with the Graduate School NanoCompetence, scientists of molecular biology and marine biology. These modules were tested and evaluated with adolescents within the didactical outreach lab.

University students are nascent researchers who should acquire knowledge and skills need to work responsibly during their academic experiences and careers. Therefore, we integrated elements of “research based education” and “research-informed teaching” in the bachelor’s and master’s biology programs. Science chats and doctoral seminars allow doing and expiring
dialogical reflections on research and innovation and open a perspective with the wider society. Especially in the doctoral program of Science Education RRI issues are reflected and became part of first doctoral theses.


Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) represents a contemporary view of the connection between science and society. The researchers share this view to different degrees. Some also see Humboldt’s ideal of ”freedom
of research” threatened – especially when it comes to discussions about public engagement. While there is broad consensus on questions of ethics in scientific communication, aspects relating to gender in research and open access are discussed controversially. Above all, the collaboration with ”external experts” from different areas of the university (e.g. equality center, science transfer, university library) helped to clarify questions and to develop an RRI vision tailored to the faculty.


Our action plan included 7 major streams:

  1. Setting up criteria for successful societal engagement and technology transfer
  2. Promoting societal engagement through socioscientific contextualization
  3. Education to raise the awareness of RRI Keys
  4. Raising awareness of gender issues
  5. Raising awareness of ethical issues
  6. Promotion of open access
  7. Setting up an RRI mission statement at faculty level


We started with a comprehensive state-of-the-art analysis of literature and research programs, interviews with different status groups, and a questionnaire survey. From the findings, we deduced criteria for first recommendations. As a next step, we developed educational building blocks (reflective activities, RRI modules) in regard to the RRI keys and tested and
evaluated them with different target groups. The formed the basis of the RRI educational interventions. The findings contributed to further development of RRI recommendations and the RRI future concept (RRI
vision) of the faculty. For structural transformation and initiation of change we mainly reached our goals: fostering sensitiveness and awareness about RRI through dialogue, offering lectures, and transparency via a local website, good practice examples, and a booklet of RRI recommendations.


  • A local website with educational building blocks and information about RRI issues.
  • A booklet of recommendations tailored to the faculty: http://nbn-resolving.de/ urn:nbn:de:gbv:46-00107721-18
  • Elster, D, Barendziak T., Birkholz, J. (2019). Towards a sustainable and open science: Recommendations for enhancing RRI in the biosciences at University Bremen, Bremen, University press.
  • Starbios2 and RRI issues have become part of the faculty’s future concept 2025
  • A family room
  • Close cooperation with the gender representatives for the development of a gender equality plan (work in progress).
  • African initiative in cooperation with the University Zanzibar: Teaching ways to healthy nutrition: Professionalization in the context of sustainable health education in Zanzibar (Saskia Tenberg, Soerge Kelm, Doris Elster, Antje Hebestreit)


Education can be a successful trigger of RRI structural change processes; open your perspectives – get support helpful, university-internal structures (external experts); take a whole-institutional approach with a bottom up-top down process; last but not least: recognize that change needs time.